California Riding Magazine • November, 2012

KDB Training Stables:
Kelli Di Gioia-Bautista
Rancho Santa Fe training program emphasizes horsemanship at all levels.

From beginning riders to A circuit winners circle contenders, Kelli Di Gioia-Bautista's hunter/jumper training program offers opportunities for all. Based at a private farm in Rancho Santa Fe, the well-known professional's business has grown into a program that excels at taking its riders up the levels and offering a variety of choices at
every step.

"It's an all-around program that's also individualized," Kelli explains. "Whatever a client's needs are, or whatever they feel will benefit them the most, we can create a training program that provides that."

At every level students can count on a solid horsemanship education. "My riders are very involved with the management of their horses," Kelli says. "I want everybody to understand all aspects of this sport, rather than just the riding and showing part of it." KDB Training Stables provides full grooming, but most of Kelli's clients, especially her junior riders, enjoy preparing and caring for their own horses to the extent their schedule allows.

The horsemanship emphasis is an extension of Kelli's equestrian education. A graduate of the Foxfield Riding School, she also rode and competed on the A circuit with the Karazissis family's Far West Farms and with top professionals Karen Healey and Richard Spooner. "I've taken a lot of what they all taught me and am trying to pass that along to my riders," Kelli says. "I like starting with the young kids and having them grow up with me, even through college." KDB is likely one of those training programs to which former students will return as adults, with their own kids in tow.

Kelli's clientele is evenly distributed between pony riders and competitors at the local, county and national levels. The mix allows her to concentrate on a relatively small group of students at each show. Those who stay home those weekends are well tended to by long-time assistant Buffy Lake. On the other end of the experience spectrum, Kelli maintains a small-scale lesson program that provides beginner kids and adults an introduction to the sport. From there it's an easy segue into leasing and ownership for those who get hooked.

The trainer is aiming for a stable size of 20 to 25 horses, allowing her to "keep it personal." Her own goals as a professional have shifted since the arrival of her pony-crazy daughter Eva nine years ago. Aspirations to campaign her own horses at the highest levels have given way to an agenda that aligns more with her daughter's ambitions and, conveniently, those of several of Eva's young stablemates.

As a coach, Kelli describes herself as "tough when I need to be. I wouldn't classify myself as a tough person in general, but my riders know when I mean business and that I'm very serious about their training.

All In The Family

"This is not a hobby for me," she continues. "It's my passion and my career and I want to continue doing it for a very long time. It's my job to make my students into better riders, so when it's time to turn up the heat, I do it." Outside the ring, there is plenty of time for friendships and fun with horses and the family atmosphere that generates is one of KDB Training Stables' draws.

That close-knit atmosphere also stems from the fact that the training program is a family business. Kelli and her husband Juan Bautista are partners, with Juan in charge of horse management and grooming and Kelli handling the training of horses and riders. Given how time consuming the sport is, Kelli is grateful that it's a family endeavor. That's especially true since the arrival of their new daughter this past September. "Sure I would love to have Open horses to campaign at some point, but my focus and energy at the moment are on my riders and their goals."

Kelli has come a long way from her days riding the infamous donkey as a member of Foxfield's renowned tack-less drill team. She progressed to a featured individual in the drill team's traveling performance, then shifted her focus to serious A circuit competition. At that level, she won just about every medal and distinction available while building her knowledge base through working with highly-regarded trainers and horsemen.

All of that great junior experience has come full circle now for Kelli as a respected young professional. Her students have been champions in year-end awards from the Greater San Diego Hunter Jumper Association and Zone 10 and are contenders at every level of competition. This summer's haul of championships in everything from the pony to the amateur jumper ranks was typical of the program's consistent show ring successes.

A Southern California veteran, Kelli relocated to Bridgeport Farm in Rancho Santa Fe last October. Owned by Northern California trainer John Bragg, the lovely property is perfect for Kelli. "It's gorgeous, private, peaceful and it has everything we need," she notes. "The horses love it and so do we."

For more information on KDB Training Stables, call Kelli Di Gioia-Bautista at 760-213-6920 or visit